ISLAMABAD: The Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) has expressed satisfaction over the July 25 election process.

In its election 2018 report, the network said the voting process generally remained smooth and significant improvements in the quality of electoral processes in the election cycle inspired people’s confidence.

It said more than half of Pakistan’s registered voters went to the polls to mark the second consecutive democratic transition of power, clearing the uncertainties over the future of democracy in the country.

Network says polling day was well managed and free of any major controversy until late-night concerns about transparency of counting process

The report has stated that the election campaign was long-drawn, competitive, in an extremely polarised political environment while election day was well managed, relatively peaceful and free of any major controversy until late-night concerns emerged over the transparency of the counting process.

“The slow process of announcement of provisional results prompted some political parties to reject the election results,” it pointed out.

Fafen has noted that it does not augur well for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to reject the concerns of major political parties like the Pakistan Muslim League-N, Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, Awami National Party, Pak Sarzameen Party and National Party without conducting an inquiry into the matter, as otherwise the country might spiral into a political and public protest and outcry that inhibited political stability.

According to Fafen, provisional results of the count (Form 47) of 241 National Assembly constituencies as announced by the ECP the voter turnout remained 53.3 per cent.

It reported that polling was conducted uninterrupted at the majority of polling stations, and the polling process was chaotic due to overcrowding and slow processing of voters — voting was interrupted primarily for prayers and food. The highest turnout of voters was in Punjab, where 59pc of registered voters went to the polls in 127 NA constituencies, for which provisional results were available.

In all three NA constituencies in Islamabad the turnout was 58.2pc, followed by 47.7pc in 52 constituencies in Sindh, 43.6pc in 50 constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including former Fata areas and 39.6pc in nine NA constituencies of Balochistan.

Interestingly, 35 NA constituencies — 24 in Punjab, six in KP, four in Sindh and one in Balochistan — with a close race have rejected votes greater than the margin of victory.

It is essential for the ECP to ensure that the returning officers diligently review the ballots excluded from the count at the polling station level in these constituencies during the consolidation proceedings.

Fafen has also pointed out that in NA-10 (Shangla) and NA-48 (North Waziristan Agency), according to the provisional results, the women voter turnout was below 10pc of the polled votes. Under the provisions of the new Elections Act, where the turnout is below 10pc of the polled votes after the consolidation of results, the ECP has the power to declare the elections in these constituencies null and void and to conduct a re-poll in one or more polling stations or the entire constituency.

Fafen deployed 19,683 trained, non-partisan observers (13,819 men and 5,846 women) accredited by the ECP to observe voting and counting processes at 72,089 polling stations in 272 NA constituencies. Eligible voters were allowed to vote in almost all polling stations except for 344 polling stations where Fafen observers reported at least one instance of registered voters being turned away by polling staff despite having their National Identity Cards (NICs). Such instances were reported from 193 polling stations in Punjab, 99 in Sindh, 31 in KP, 12 in Islamabad and nine in Balochistan. Polling staff strictly adhered to the legal requirement of allowing only those voters to cast their ballot who were in possession of their original NIC.

However, Fafen observers reported at least one instance of voters being allowed to vote who did not have their NICs but were carrying other identity documents such as a coloured copy of NIC, passport, etc. at 401 polling stations — 260 in Punjab, 68 in KP, 61 in Sindh, nine in Islamabad and three in Balochistan.

Fafen observers spotted campaign materials inside 1,539 polling stations, while polling agents exhibiting or wearing anything containing their political party symbol, flag and/or picture of the candidate was common across the country.

Published in Dawn, July 29th, 2018